Last week, Darlene from Blazing Hot Wok asked her readers to share what they plan to put on their tables this holiday season. I mentioned that I intend to prepare a jalapeno creamed spinach dish, because without it, Christmas is not Christmas--and Thanksgiving is not Thanksgiving; and for that matter, New Year's is not New Year's. Darlene asked me for the recipe, and I am more than happy to oblige.
If you've been reading Fritter for a while, you know that I grew up in Texas. This kind of heritage skews a person's palate. I look for the spicy dishes; the smoky flavors; the pickled jalapeno. A zing of cayenne is always welcome on my plate. The top tier of my wedding cake was a chocolate chili mousse that made my lips tingle. In my mind, if it's already good, it can be made even better with a little heat.
Jalapeno creamed spinach is a spicy Texas soul food dish. My mother has been preparing it for nearly twenty years and now that we are grown, my sister and I both stir up our own batches for the holidays.
The original recipe comes from Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen. If you read Gourmet during the 1980's, you may recall Colwin's humorous and endearing articles. Who could resist essays with titles like "Repulsive Dinners: a Memoir," and "Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant"?
Shortly before her death in the early 1990's, Colwin published Home Cooking, a collection of her Gourmet articles. It is in this book that she describes a dinner party in a Dallas home, where she was served a creamed spinach dish with jalapeno peppers. Tasting the flavors of this dish for the first time, Colwin wrote, "It was so good it made me want to sit up and beg like a dog."
I know exactly what she meant when she wrote that. Try it, you'll see.
Jalapeno Creamed Spinach
Adapted from Laurie Colwin's recipe in Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen, published in 1988.
This dish is a holiday winner in our house, not only because it is the best darn spinach you'll ever eat, but also because you can make it days ahead of time and freeze it with good results. If you plan to do things ahead of time, just prepare the dish up as described above, stopping right before you actually bake it. Freeze the spinach, then allow it to return to room temperature on the day you plan to bake it before placing it in the oven.
2 16-ounce bags of chopped and frozen spinach
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons white onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon celery seed
A few twists of fresh black pepper
6 ounces monterrey jack cheese
2 tablespoons pickled jalapenos, chopped (if you're feeding a heat-loving crowd, go ahead and bump it up by an additional tablespoon)
3 tablespoons unseasoned bread crumbs
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
Using either your microwave or a large saucepan over low heat, thaw the frozen spinach until it is soft but not cooked. Let the spinach cool until it is no longer hot to the touch. Nest a colander over a large bowl to reserve the spinach liquid. Squeeze the spinach by until (or using a potato masher) until most of the liquid has drained into the bowl below and the spinach forms dry clumps. Set aside the spinach liquid for later use (make a mental note at this point not to dump it down the drain. I've done that, and I will tell you right now that your spinach won't be the same).
Melt the butter in a large saucepan over low heat. Whisk in the flour briskly until smooth and continue to whisk slowly for 3 to 4 minutes until the butter is golden but not brown. Stir in the onion and garlic, then add 1 cup of the reserved spinach liquid and whisk slowly until smooth.
Increase the heat to medium, then add the heavy cream, black pepper, salt, celery seed, and monterrey jack cheese. Stir the mixture until the cheese has melted and the mixture is smooth. Add the spinach and jalapenos and stir to distribute the cheese mixture evenly throughout the spinach.
Grease a small casserole (I use a 5" x 9" loaf pan) with non-stick spray or butter, then tip the spinach into it, smoothing it out with a spatula. Sprinkle bread crumbs over the top, then bake at 400 degrees for 35-40 minutes.
* While I love some heat, I have limits. Remember this little nightmare? That's where I draw my line on the capsaicin scale. Never again, you evil rogue poblano!